Niki Bezzant: Gluten-free eggs and low-fat lettuce

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As shoppers, we are all probably used to some hyperbole on food packaging.

I wrote recently that the use of the word "natural" is an example. It's now a marketing term rather than a meaningful description.

When it comes to health claims, though, we have a right to expect we won't be misled by food labels. At the very least, labelling claims need to be true, and ideally not confusing or misleading.

Until recently, this was only an issue with packaged foods. We've all seen the packets of sweets promoted, meaninglessly as "97 per cent fat free" when you'd never expect to find fat in them anyway.

But things that don't come in packets don't need health claims, right? We all know whole foods are the healthiest foods.

So it has surprised me to see health claims popping up on whole foods. The other day I opened a box of eggs to discover a cute flyer, featuring: " a dozen reasons to love eggs".

I don't really need any reasons, for the record. I love eggs and eat them most days. Reasons to love eggs included their protein, vitamin and mineral content - fair enough.

But then there was this claim: "Zero carbs no sugar". This astounded me. My immediate thought was: who would think there were carbs or sugar in eggs?

My next thought was: and so what if there were? Does this make them bad food?

Another "reason to love eggs" according to the flyer was that eggs are "naturally gluten-free". Again, do we really need to be told this?

Anyone with an understanding of gluten - and certainly anyone concerned enough to avoid gluten in their diet - knows gluten is found in grains like wheat, oats, barley and rye, and not in whole protein foods like eggs or meat.

Anyone who finds it reassuring that eggs are gluten-free probably needs to go back to basics on gluten education.

Another example of odd claims on whole foods can be found on a pack of fresh mushrooms. "No sugars and cholesterol free"; "low in fat"; "low in sodium"; "low in calories".

Really? We really need reassurance about sugar in mushrooms?

And since when have any vegetables been high in sodium?

As for cholesterol, I don't know who would expect to find it in any vegetable. In any case, it's a meaningless statement, since we know eating cholesterol doesn't give us high cholesterol.

All of this makes me wonder: are we so disconnected from our food we have no idea what's in it any more?

Or have we become so confused by all the noise about what we should and shouldn't eat that it has made us paranoid, and we're worrying about things in our food that aren't - and never have been - there?

We can't blame the food marketers for simply catering to that. But let's relax and try not to be sucked into thinking of any whole food as bad.

Niki Bezzant is editor in chief of Healthy Food Guide magazine.

- Herald on Sunday

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